Gas Leaks


Intro from HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team)

Natural Gas Leaks

● Are potentially explosive:
When natural gas leaks out of pipes and accumulates in confined spaces, all it takes is a small spark to ignite the gas into flames. This spark can originate from something as commonplace as a cigarette, an outlet, a poorly wired light switch, or exposed wires. In order to reduce the chances of explosions, utilities run surveys of all public streets every six months to 2 years. If a leak is either in a contained space or near a building, it is deemed “potentially explosive” and, therefore, is repaired. The current system for detecting leaks has minimized explosions but has not eliminated them completely.
In 2014, 12 people were hurt in an explosion in Dorchester. A month earlier, a natural gas leak explosion in Harlem left eight people dead and 70 injured.

● Kill trees:
As the natural gas percolates up through the soil, it displaces oxygen and dehydrates the soil, asphyxiating nearby plant roots. The connection between damaged vegetation and natural gas leaks is so reliable that utility personnel are trained to look for dead or dying trees when searching for natural-gas leaks. To cut down and replace a public tree costs between $1,000 and $15,000 per tree, depending on the size of the tree. It can take decades for them to grow back to the previous size.

The cities of Brookline, Hingham, Milton, Nahant and Saugus all have pending legal actions against National Grid totaling over $2 million in damage to city trees.

● Hurt human health:
Natural gas increases ground-level ozone and reduces the level of oxygen in the air. At high concentration it can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue and an increase in human morbidity.
(Also see our Health Risks Page here on No Fracked Gas in Mass)

● Damage the climate:
A 2015 Harvard University-led study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences monitored the atmosphere in the Greater Boston area for ethane, a chemical marker found only in natural gas. The results showed that 2.7% of the natural gas in our distribution network is lost before it reaches our homes and businesses. Not only is this valuable fossil fuel being wasted – a fuel harvested through fracking, a destructive environmental practice – but as the gas is released into the atmosphere, it also damages the climate.

Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a remarkably potent greenhouse gas that is 85 times more destructive to the climate than carbon dioxide over its first 20 years. The Harvard study reports that even when considered on a 100-year time frame (methane gradually weakens in impact over time), the leaks account for 10% of the state’s inventory of greenhouse gasses. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions of all the state’s businesses and factories combined. It is easier to fix a majority of these leaks than to persuade most factories and businesses to stop emitting.

Who is Paying for the Lost Gas?
To add insult to injury, the utilities don’t pay for the wasted gas, but instead pass the cost onto ratepayers by factoring the lost gas into the price we pay per therm. The 2014 Harvard-University-led study calculated the total cost of lost gas to be $90 million per year in the Greater Boston area alone.

» City Maps of Gas Leaks

Click on city name to go to zoomable map of the leak locations

» Action Guide: Reducing Gas Leaks in Massachusetts

From HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team), a nonprofit that has mapped natural gas leaks in over 180 municipalities. (Note: On page 8, this action guide mentions the proposed Kinder Morgan gas line (Northeast Energy Direct) which has since been cancelled, but the bulk of the information is still quite valuable).


from Sierra Club

In 2014, the Massachusetts legislature partially addressed this problem by passing “An Act Relative to Natural Gas Leaks”.  That law established a grading system for leaks and requires that dangerous leaks are fixed.  It also requires gas utilities to provide information on the locations of gas leaks.  The reported locations of gas leaks have been mapped for many municipalities in Massachusetts by HEET. See your city or town’s gas leak locations here.  The 2014 law did not solve the problem of leaks that are not safety concerns. Currently, gas utilities are not required to repair non-threatening gas leaks – ever!

2016 saw significant further progress toward eliminating gas leaks in Massachusetts.  The passage of bill H.4568, “An Act to promote energy diversity,” opened new possibilities for clean energy in Massachusetts.  It also directed our regulatory agencies to come up with a plan to identify and repair gas leaks that have a “significant environmental impact.”  Another term for gas leaks that have a “significant environmental impact” is “superemitters.”  According to a 2016 study by Boston University, a handful of superemitters (about 7% of all leaks) are responsible for half of the leaked gas.  Repairing these huge leaks can sharply reduce the state’s methane emissions and save ratepayers real money.  We are excited about this focus on the leakiest leaks.

Progress in 2016 was accomplished in no small part due to the outspoken support of communities across Massachusetts.  35 municipalities, representing about a third of the population of Massachusetts, passed resolutions endorsing state action to fix gas leaks, and our legislature got the message.  The municipalities were: Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Cheshire, Concord, Dalton, Fall River, Framingham, Great Barrington, Haverhill, Lexington, Lowell, Malden, Marblehead, Natick, Newton, Northampton, North Adams, Pittsfield, Quincy, Reading, Rockland, Somerville, Springfield, Swampscott, Waltham, Wayland, Wellesley, Weston, Williamstown, and Worcester.

In addition, in December 2016, Boston passed an ordinance that put additional requirements on gas companies when they perform gas leak repairs in Boston.  The ordinance coordinates infrastructure repair, allows for data collection and protects the city’s environment and green space. The revised ordinance streamlines the reporting requirement and attaches it to Public Works’ permitting authority.  Boston’s ordinance will be an example for action by other municipalities in 2017.

DPU gas leaks hearing — DPU 16-31-B

10/25/2017, 10:00 AM
Hearing Officer Morris       

Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities on its own motion, instituting a rulemaking pursuant to the Acts of 2014, c. 149,§ 144; G.L. c. 30A, § 2; and 220 C.M.R. § 2.00 et seq., establishing requirements for Uniform Natural Gas Leaks Classification.



» The Leaks That Threaten the Clean Image of Natural Gas
U.S. energy companies are scrambling to reduce methane emissions—both unintended and deliberate—that equate to exhaust from 69 million cars a year and contribute to global warming
By Rebecca Elliott, Wall Street Journal
August 8, 2019

» State regulators want better reporting of lost gas
By Christian M. Wade, Gloucester Times
August 7, 2019

» Gas leaks in Boston produce twice as much methane as previously known, study finds
By David Abel and Aidan Ryan, Boston Globe
August 1, 2019

» The Natural Gas Industry Has a Leak Problem
By John Schwartz and Brad Plumer, New York Times
June 21, 2018

» There’s a new tool in the fight to seal the state’s gas leaks
By David Abel Globe Staff
October 31, 2017

» Natural gas leaks cost Mass. $39M annually
by Zachary Comeau, Worcester Business Journal
October 2, 2017

» Columbia Gas begins repair program for non-threatening leaks
by G. Michael Dobbs, Reminder Publications
August 3, 2017

» Somerville mothers aim to stop gas leaks
By Samson Amore, Boston Globe
May 18, 2017

» Leaked Natural Gas was Enough to Heat 190,000 Homes
May 5, 2017

» Columbia Gas pledges more aggressive program to go after pipe leaks, gaining praise from community activists
By Peter Goonan, Springfield Repulican / MassLive
January 26, 2017

» Ongoing gas leaks continue throughout western Mass.
By Kaitlin Goslee, WWLP News
May 12, 2016

» Advocates hold birthday party for 30-year-old gas leak: “It’s been there since the Bee Gees”
By Steve Annear, Boston Globe
September 16, 2015

» Project reveals 20,000 leaks in Mass. gas lines
Trouble spots widespread, some decades old
By David Abel, Boston Globe Staff
August 21, 2015

» Sparsely populated areas low on pipeline risk priority
By Robert Swift (harrisburg bureau chief), The Times-Tribune
June 8, 2010